There’s No Debate Fracking Brings Down Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Tonight vice presidential candidates, Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Governor Mike Pence (R-IN), will square off in their first debate, and we’re willing to bet they’ll be in disagreement on most issues.

But one area where there’s really no debate is that fracking has brought substantial environmental benefits to the United States.  In fact, major figures on both sides of the aisle have touted the fact that our dramatic decrease in carbon dioxide emissions is due to fracking and the increased production and use of natural gas, as following EID graphic illustrates.


Source: Energy Information Administration (EIA)

Support for fracking by the Trump campaign is well-known, but folks may not realize this is something both camps agree on. Senator Kaine put it well when he explained,

“We’ve been improving our emissions in this country without agreeing to the Kyoto accords, without Congressional action because of innovation form the natural gas area.”

As President Obama said just last night, in a strong rebuke of the Keep-It-In-The-Ground movement,

“And their attitude is that we’ve got to leave all that stuff in the ground if we’re gonna solve climate change and I get all that. On the other hand, the fact that we’re transitioning from coal to natural gas means less greenhouse gases.” (emphasis added)

Hillary Clinton agrees. As she explains in a campaign factsheet,

“Switching to natural gas has avoided thousands of premature deaths and more than 100,000 asthma attacks by improving air quality, while creating good paying jobs and careers and helping reduce U.S. carbon pollution to its lowest level in 20 years…With strong safeguards in place, natural gas can play an important role in our transition to a clean energy economy…As President, I will ensure natural gas production is safe and responsible in those communities that choose to pursue it.”

And as one of her campaign staffers said to Politifact, “The Clinton campaign said she and Kaine agree on fracking and natural gas.”

This rare widespread consensus should come as no surprise considering the data clearly show natural gas has done more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions than any other government scheme or agreement.

Without adopting stringent policies such as the Kyoto treaty or cap-and-trade, the United States, the largest economy in the world, has the distinction of being the only major country in the world to significantly reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, as the following EID graphic illustrates.


The down-trending figures on the right illustrate why President Obama was able to tout in his address to world leaders at COP21 that the “advances we’ve made have helped drive our economic output to all-time highs, and drive our carbon pollution to its lowest levels in nearly two decades.”

The evidence of shale gas’ enormous role in reducing emissions is so overwhelming that even the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — which environmentalists refer to as the “gold standard” of climate science — has credited the fracking boom and U.S. natural gas for the great progress that’s been made on climate change:

“A key development since AR4 is the rapid deployment of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal-drilling technologies, which has increased and diversified the gas supply and allowed for a more extensive switching of power and heat production from coal to gas (IEA, 2012b); this is an important reason for a reduction of GHG emissions in the United States.” (emphasis added)

And the trend is continuing. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported earlier this year that energy-related CO2 emissions declined 12 percent below 2005 levels in 2015, with nearly 200 million metric tons of those reductions occurring between 2014 and 2015. EIA is also projecting 2016 U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions will be at their lowest levels since 1992, dropping to 5.2 billion metric tons, down 1.5 percent from 2015 levels.

EIA Administrator Adam Sieminski could not be clearer as to the reason CO2 emissions will fall to their lowest levels in 24 years,

“The drop in CO2 emissions is largely the result of low natural gas prices, which have contributed to natural gas displacing a large amount of coal used for electricity generation.” (emphasis added)

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) latest Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program (GHGRP) data released today further confirms Sieminski’s assessment. Overall, the data shows CO2 emissions from reporting large facilities fell 4.9 percent between 2014 and 2015 and 8.2 percent since 2005, declines Politico notes were “driven largely by reductions from the power sector.” That’s because power plants, which typically account for about 30 percent of total U.S. GHG emissions, saw their CO2 emissions decline 7.2 percent from 2014 to 2015 and 11.3 percent from 2011 levels.

That makes sense considering that EIA has also noted that as natural gas fired electricity generation ramped up, overall power plant greenhouse gas emissions reached a 27-year low in April 2015. EIA also reports that since 2005, natural gas has prevented more than one billion metric tons of carbon dioxide from being emitted from power plants in the United States. Meanwhile, by comparison, the use of renewable energy has prevented only 600 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, according to the EIA.

The Paris-based International Energy Agency’s (IEA) latest World Energy Outlook has also pointed out that natural gas is a “valuable component of a gradually decarbonizing electricity and energy system.”  IEA previously hailed the “decline in energy-related CO2 emissions in the United States” as “one of the bright spots in the global picture” and went on to note, “One of the key reasons has been the increased availability of natural gas, linked to the shale gas revolution.”

The science has been echoed by Obama, as well as his top regulators and administration officials, all of whom have touted the environmental benefits of natural gas. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy said recently, “Responsible development of natural gas is an important part of our work to curb climate change and support a robust clean energy market at home.” Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz noted that natural gas bas “been a big contributor to our carbon reduction.” Obama has pointed out that natural gas “not only can provide safe, cheap power, it can also help reduce our carbon emissions.”

So as a pair of candidates from opposite sides of the political aisle get set to square off in tonight’s vice presidential debate, don’t expect disagreement between the two regarding the clear environmental benefits of shale development.




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